How to Tame a Wild Tongue

by Gloria Anzaldúa

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What does Anzaldúa mean when she equates language and identity in "I am my language"?

Quick answer:

Anzaldúa believes that the languages she speaks are a defining part of who she is. She says that until she can accept the languages she speaks as legitimate, she cannot accept the legitimacy of herself.

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Anzaldúa views the languages she speaks as a critical part of her identity. They help her fit in with her community and help define who she is, just like her ethnic identity does. In her story “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Anzaldúa recounts several times throughout her life when she got in trouble for speaking Spanish. For example, she was beaten with a ruler for speaking Spanish at recess. She also got in trouble for telling her teacher how to pronounce her name correctly. When the teacher reprimands her for clarifying the pronunciation of her own name, the teacher is essentially reprimanding Anzaldúa for who she is.

But it is not just native English speakers who reprimand her for speaking Chicano Spanish. She also explains that various Latinos and Latinas have accused her of mutilating the Spanish language, since Chicano Spanish is a border language. But Anzaldúa has come to understand that Chicano Spanish is an important part of her people’s history and of who she is as a person. Recall that she explains how the language “sprang out of the Chicanos' need to identify ourselves as a distinct people. We needed a language with which we could communicate with ourselves,” she writes, “a secret language. For some of us, language is a homeland closer than the Southwest.” This quote shows how Chicano Spanish is more than just a form of communication, it is a mechanism of connection for people who have struggled to find a sense of self and a true home for so long. In holding strong to their language, they have held strong to their identity in the face of marginalization and discrimination. Ultimately, Anzaldúa knows that “until I can accept as legitimate Chicago Texas, Spanish, Tex-Mex, and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself.”

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